The tight end position has been a bit of an enigma during Nick Saban’s tenure at Alabama. Early on, the big men were the go-to safety valve for Greg McElroy and A.J. McCarron, but then they became less and less involved in the passing game until O.J. Howard came around in 2014. Even that, though, became a bit of a running joke, as Howard’s unquestionable talent as a receiver was severely underutilized his entire career, outside of the two championship games against Clemson.
Then the Tide went a year with basically no receiving contributions from the tight ends, despite having an offensive coordinator that had previously been the TE position coach for Rob Gronkowski. Last year, though, Irv Smith really broke out with Tua Tagovailoa at QB, and he was used just as much as the rest of the wide receivers.
So, depending on the coordinator and QB, it seems that the tight end group is used significantly differently every year. Sometimes they’re more in-line blockers, sometimes they’re receivers, and sometimes they’re hybrid fullbacks. It’s yet to be seen what direction Steve Sarkisian will end up taking the position.
Irv Smith, Jr.
Smith is off to the NFL after displaying some serious athleticism and game-breaking receiving skills in 2018. 44 catches for 710 yards and 7 touchdowns is a lot of production to replace. Though he had improved his blocking throughout the year, Smith was never known for being all that useful in the run game— he was really just a large wide receiver.
The senior was pretty much the antithesis of Smith. A 3-year starter at tight end, Hentges had only 15 catches for 124 yards in his career, though 40% of his catches went for touchdowns (and 3 of his 4 catches in 2018 were all touchdowns). But he was a solid and dependable blocker all over the field for years.
#87- Miller Forristall
The redshirt junior is a 6’5” 235 -pound athletic specimen who played QB up until his senior year of high school before moving out wide as a hybrid receiver/tight end and hauled in nearly 1000 yards in his first year as a pass-catcher.
He played in all 15 games at Alabama as a true freshman, being used mostly as a blocker if Hentges or Howard needed a break. He did have a few receptions in critical moments though, and left most Alabama fans excited about his potential. Unfortunately, his sophomore year was cut short just a couple of games in with a severe knee injury, and he got a medical redshirt.
Last year, he worked his way back but still looked slower than he had in the past, and he had been passed up on the depth chart by the meteoric ascendance from Irv Smith.
Now that Smith and Hentges are gone, Forristall is the frontrunner to take over the job. He still has to prove that he’s totally recovered from his knee injury two seasons ago and recover the athleticism that made him a top recruit.
#88- Major Tennison
About 10 pounds heavier than Forristall, the redshirt sophomore is more known for his blocking than his receiving. Tennison was forced into Forristall’s role as the back-up 3rd blocker his freshman year he went down with the knee injury. Then in 2018, Tennison actually redshirted as a sophomore and never played.
#44- Kedrick James
The 260-pound bowling ball of a tight end is also in his third year with the team. He’s played some defensive line in the past, and bulked up to as high as 280 pounds before. He’s known as a devastating blocker and is often used as a fullback in goal line situations. He’s only played in 10 total games so far in his first two years on campus, and was suspended for the playoffs at the end of 2018— a suspension that will most likely carry over into the first couple of games of 2019.
#80- Michael Parker
At 6’6” and under 220 pounds, Parker took a redshirt as a freshman and never saw any action last year. He’s not much of a blocker, and more of another one of those receiver/tight end hybrid types with nice hands and the ability to box people out for jump balls. He’s still mostly an unknown though.
Projected A-day depth chart
Though the nature of the position changes,Saban usually uses two different tight ends as “starters,” one of which is an H-back and the other is a traditional Y-TE (the H usually lines up off the LOS like an offset full back, and the Y is usually on the line somewhere). Those two positions aren’t really separated by receivers vs blockers though, so it’s kind of hard to predict who will be which spot... and they’re mostly interchangeable anyway.
TE-H: Miller Forristall, Michael Parker
TE-Y: Major Tennison, Kedrick James
The tight ends are usually a position that wins starting jobs by seniority, since it’s generally much more focused on playing assignment football and consistency than on athleticism. Forristall is pretty much a sure bet to be one of the starters, and the other will probably be a battle between James and Tennison. James’ looming suspension is the tie breaker though, relegating him to the second team with the younger and still a bit undersized Michael Parker.